MCALLEN, RGV – Texas A&M University has held a topping out ceremony for its new higher education center in McAllen.

A topping out ceremony is a builders’ rite traditionally held when the last beam is placed atop a structure during its construction.

“A topping out ceremony a significant step in the development of any building project,” said Jim Nelson, assistant vice chancellor and director of special academic initiatives for Texas A&M System. “When the structural steel is finally finished, and the last piece goes in place, the building now has its shape. From this point onwards, we know what it is going to look like and all the finishing work starts to go in its place. The building picks up its character after today.”

Nelson said what makes the event more special is that a number of students are already attending class in the Rio Grande Valley. Texas A&M has 38 enrolled freshmen for its inter-disciplinary engineering four-year degree program. They are currently receiving tuition from A&M professors at South Texas College’s technology campus in McAllen.

“For them to be part of this and sign this last piece of steel that goes into place – as long as this building stands here their presence as the founding students of Texas A&M’s endeavor in the Rio Grande Valley will be immortalized forever,” said Nelson.

Nelson has been the coordinator of the McAllen A&M project, working with the architectural team and the design team with the contractor. “Really making sure what the faculty and the students need in order to succeed in their careers, is what is really going into this building. It has been a wonderful trip since this thing started. It was an open field about 15 months ago but looking at where we are today with the final piece of steel going into place, it is special.”

Asked if the contractors are on target to have the facility ready for a fall 2018 opening, Nelson said: “I think we are absolutely on target. The winds here this summer have slowed a couple of pieces down but not enough to really affect anything. On site development, we are actually ahead of schedule. So, at this point we do not anticipate any problems at all with the first students beginning their studies here next fall, just a year from now.”

The McAllen facility will be part of Texas A&M in College Station. Asked what the mood is in College Station for a McAllen campus, Nelson said: “There is nothing but total excitement at Texas A&M. It is part of Texas A&M University. Texas A&M has campuses and teaching sites in several places, we have a law school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We have a campus in Qatar, we have the campus down in Galveston. It shows the reach of Texas A&M University.”

Asked what degree programs will be on offer when the new building opens, Nelson said the full roster will be finalized in the coming weeks. “Inter-disciplinary engineering is the first program that has come in. We have 38 students studying right now in temporary space in a collaborative arrangement we have with South Texas College. We really do appreciate their support. The other programs are coming. In another six weeks or so we can give you an update on what those programs are and the full breadth.”

Asked if he wished to make any other comments, Nelson said: “We appreciate the people of the Rio Grande Valley, with the vision they have and working with us as closely as they have and making this entire building possible. With the contractors here, the students, the mayor’s staff, the faculty, it is a party atmosphere right now.”

Rick Margo is Texas A&M’s interim director of the higher education center in McAllen.

“I am directing the staff as far as operations are concerned and making sure our 38 enrolled freshmen are in class and doing well,” Margo said. Asked how the students are doing, Margo said: “They are doing excellent so far. They are looking forward to their first exams. They have been very active and very enthusiastic about being Aggies and studying in McAllen. The goal is to have them in this building by the fall of next year, in addition to a couple of other programs, majors starting.”

Margo said two other four-year degree programs on offer in 2018 will be public health and food systems industry management. “So, we will have inter-disciplinary engineering, public health and food systems industry management. Two faculty members are here teaching every day but there will be more hired in the spring.”

Asked if he would like to make any further comments for the people of the Rio Grande Valley, Margo said: “It has been a long time coming. We have been renting space at South Texas College but I think once we move here it will brighten up everybody’s morale and make this a special place for all Aggies. Gig ‘Em Aggies.”